We've got stuff to do around here this week, otherwise I might have asked The Belleville Flash (my boss, Kevin Miller) if I could grab a plane to Indy and ask Colts GM Chris Ballard for a quick status report on the rivalry.
“Chris, just wondering on the Colts-Patriots rivalry … still on? Hiatus? Cancelled? Whatta we got?”
There are many layers to the news of Andrew Luck’s retirement. First, you feel for a guy who – at 29 – has decided he’s had enough of being like a gerbil on a wheel chasing good health and peace of mind while his body breaks down.
But there’s also local interest in terms of how the loss of Luck affects the Patriots and the rest of the AFC, why it winds up being a bullet dodged by Josh McDaniels and how the elevation of Jacoby Brissett to Colts starter brings the deal that sent him to the Colts into focus even more.
Start with Luck, though.
A month ago, talking to Albert Breer, Luck was open about the mental struggles his injuries had caused him and the gains he’d made in finding purpose and meaning even when his body was keeping him from his job.
“I’d put way too much of my self-worth directly into how I was performing on the football field,” Luck told Breer. “And then I wasn’t on the football field and I felt quite empty. It was very unhealthy, first for me, second for the relationship with my now-wife, and my other relationships. The result has been the best thing that ever could’ve happened. It forced me to look in the mirror and do a character assessment, and address the things I didn’t like and then the things I did like, and then get on the same page with the people I love and respect.”
Luck, who had a baby on the way at the time of the conversation with Breer, said people around the organization took notice of a more chipper outlook.
“It’s more, ‘Hey, you seem happier.’ Or ‘You seem less burdened.’ One of the big things, and I still struggle with, I realize you don’t just get it and you’ve got it forever,” Luck said. “I eff up constantly. There’s always something. That’s the beauty of life, I guess. But being present—be where your feet are, live in the moment, be present—it’s really something I tried last year during the season.”
Just making an educated guess here, but the feeling of being “present” or “unburdened” was undoubtedly a casualty of the calf and ankle injuries Luck has been unable to recover from. And in order to do what was good for his body, mind, spirit and family, the cause of the distress – an inability to play football – became the casualty.
It’s very sad. But at the same time, it’s instructive. Luck, fortunately, has the financial means to step away from a job that he finds is making him more miserable than it’s worth and costing him quality of life. The kind of self-audit Luck seems to have done, the value he’s placed on his mental health in the present while turning his back on the celebrity and the tens of millions he could make at work is laudable.
Meanwhile, with Indy now turning to the former Patriots third-rounder Brissett, the Colts are no longer the threat-level in the AFC that they were when the day started. Even a diminished Luck still was operating with one of the NFL’s true super-computers inside his skull.
Brissett may be fine – and head coach Frank Reich said this offseason that he feels he’s one of the league’s 20 best quarterbacks – but Luck was a four-time Pro Bowler and if he’d been blessed with better health could have been headed to Canton someday. Indy’s still got some outstanding talent on both sides of the ball but, without Luck, they go from one of the top four teams in the conference to … well, we’ll have to see how Brissett plays. But they aren’t top four anymore.
That Brissett is a Colt shows how shrewd Ballard was in sending Phillip Dorsett to the Patriots on cutdown day in 2017 in exchange for Brissett. And the Patriots’ gamble in sending him out paid off.
I’m still confounded as to the shortcomings Brissett exhibited that made him expendable at the start of his second season when he’d seemed to do everything right as a rookie.
Yes, he had a bad camp that year. But the Patriots drafted him presumably because Jimmy Garoppolo had an expiring contract at the end of 2017 and they weren’t making any headway getting Garoppolo to agree to stick around. They wound up trading him less than two months after they shipped out Brissett. Brian Hoyer – who was part of the Garoppolo trade with San Fran – has been plenty capable. His work running the Patriots scout team prior to the Super Bowl was credited by many teammates as being a key facet in the New England win.
But the team now has a new quarterback it’s developing in Jarrett Stidham who's under their control through 2022. Brissett will be a free agent at the end of this season and would have spent his four seasons in New England watching Brady play while he sat. Dorsett hasn’t been an electric player but he has had some value for a team that’s been short on receivers the past two years.
Regardless of what Brissett does in Indy, the Patriots can’t be faulted for making that move. It actually was a brilliant gamble because they got value from Dorsett when they wouldn’t have gotten jack from Brissett (if he even made the team) and they reset the contract clock with a player who, during his short stint here, has shown himself so far to be a better thrower than Brissett.
Back to that Ballard quote from the top of the story. The reason he laid down the gauntlet on the Patriots in February of 2018 was that Josh McDaniels left the Colts at the altar. McDaniels backed out of his agreement to coach the Colts for a stack of reasons – primarily family and an 11th hour pitch by the Patriots to keep him. But the comfort level with Luck’s health – it was his shoulder that was the concern back then – also played a big role. I can’t imagine that McDaniels would feel anything but sympathy for Luck’s plight but there also has to be recognition somewhere in his mind that – had he gone to Indy – he’d now be coaching a team far different than the one he was signing up for.
Finally, it’s truly amazing to consider that Brady – at 42 – is still playing at a high level while Luck is leaving the league at 29. That means Brady has outlasted the Colts No. 1 pick in 1998, Peyton Manning – who broke down in 2012 and was released by Indy – and the No. 1 pick in 2012.
A lot of it has to do with conditioning and good fortune but there are other factors that should also be considered. The Patriots have a man who might be the best offensive line coach in league history, Dante Scarnecchia. Brady’s taken his share of beatings but he was never, ever pummeled in the same fashion the porous Colts offensive lines allowed Luck to be hammered.
Thank Scarnecchia for a lot of that. Also, thank the offensive scheme in New England that has been predicated on getting the ball out quickly and accurately. Thank the pocket presence of Brady and his decision-making in staying out of harm’s way whereas Luck – who was blessed with far more speed – put himself in harm’s way too often.
The Colts, under the reign of walking disaster Ryan Grigson, drafted stiff after stiff and asked them to keep Luck upright. They failed. But, even more, Grigson and the Colts staff failed in protecting its most important asset.
But at least Colts owner Jim Irsay still has his “On the Road” manuscript, 60 priceless guitars and the first draft of Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
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